Sustaining Stories

The Marquee

Kieran Tyrrell

Big David pulled up in his jeep and let the window down. ‘Corney, the very man.’

Oh no, I thought to myself. Big David was a farmer and his parents owned a few businesses in town. He was that cute he wouldn’t even tell himself the truth. You see, in those days he often looked for a couple of chaps to herd sheep. You could be gone working all day with him and he didn’t pay well. He told me he had a right handy job; short hours and the money was good – perfect for me. We arranged to meet at the marquee at two o’clock that day. The marquee was put up every summer on the Fairgreen in Tinahely and there would be a dance on every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night for two or three weeks.

When I arrived, the men were nearly finished putting up the marquee. The wooden dance floor was laid first and then the tent was erected and when you stepped inside it was almost otherworldly. There was an immediate increase in temperature and every sound echoed around you. It was bigger than the ball alley, maybe three or four times. The poles, with all the coloured lights strung along from pole to pole the full length of the drive, were in position.

‘There must be two hundred lights,’ I said, amazed. ‘Five hundred,’ he replied.

At night, when they were lighting, it was a beautiful sight; red, blue, green, yellow. He offered me eight pounds, I looked for twelve. We settled on ten.

You see, there would always be a crowd of chaps playing football in the tent during the day with the result that a lot of lights would be broken. And then of course, there would be a crowd sliding down the roof of the tent – not to mention a certain crowd would be taking pot shots with catapults at the bulbs hanging from pole to pole on the driveway. On one such occasion, Fr. Molloy was driving out the new road when he could see across the fields the crowd sliding on the tent. He was in a fit of rage and whilst turning, crashed the car into the ditch! Fifteen minutes later, he arrived at the marquee with Sergeant Connelly. There were a lot of chaps grounded for the rest of that week, including three of the Sergeants’ own chaps!

At tea time, I came home to the sweet smell of fried potatoes with a fried egg and toast with the butter melted perfectly into it . The Angelus bells rang on the telly and then came the news.

‘I hear you got a job for the next few weeks,’ said me father.

‘Three weeks,’ I quickly corrected him.

‘You are going to sweep up the marquee after every dance and keep an eye on it during the week too, I heard.’

‘That’s it,’ said I. ‘And I’m getting ten pounds a week for it.’

‘Aye,’ said he and then he passed some remark to me mother and she laughed. I didn’t understand.

I would cycle me bike around the inside of the marquee, pulling the wide- headed brush behind me until I had all the rubbish together. Putting it all in a black plastic bag, I’d leave it at the ticket box outside, then carefully inspect all areas around the edges, foraging, as there was usually money behind the seating. On the ground near the cloak room, at the mineral counter, and outside at the ticket box were more lucrative spots. I did well in this job as I found on average four or five pounds in change the morning after every dance. Great to have money to buy Mars Bars and Patsy Pops. The Committee had a good season too, with very few bulbs broken that year. Big David told me the job was mine next year if I was interested. I had to think about it as next year I would be nearly fourteen.

Sometimes I think back on all the adventures and experiences we had during our summer holidays. Making hay, dipping sheep, working at the Tinahely Show, minding the marquee. Fishing, building huts, making catapults. The anticipation, the fun, the danger, the excitement, the devilment, and of course, the innocence.

It was only years later I understood what my father was saying to my mother all those years ago when he made that remark. ‘Poacher come gamekeeper!’ And I always laugh.

KIERAN TYRRELL lives in Carnew County Wicklow and works for A.M.V. Systems Enniscorthy, as an air conditioning service technician. His hobbies include directing plays, acting and all things to do with drama. Kieran directs Bunclody/Kilmyshall Drama Group on the Amateur Drama All-Ireland circuit.

Read more sustaining stories

The Dubs ( by: Bernie Walsh )
Munch ( by: Bernadette Colfer )
The Precious Little Black Honey Bee (by: Bruce Copeland)
The Gooseberry Bush (by: Rona Fleming)
Zaventem (by: Joy Redmond)
The Longest Journey (by Patrick O’Neill)
I Can Fly (by Jacinta Hayes)
The Marquee (by Kieran Tyrrell)
Ten Minutes (by Jacinta McGovern)
The Turkey is in the Post (by Lucy Nolan)

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